Most members of the Trump clan have never strayed far from the spotlight.
But unlike the rest of the family, after four turbulent years of Donald Trump’s presidency, former first lady Melania has pulled off the impossible – we still don’t know who she really is.
Love them or loathe them, the rest of the family have dominated headlines; Donald Trump and his three adult children from his first marriage, Eric, Ivanka and Donald Jr, have been constant fixtures on our TV screens and social media feeds.
But throughout the rollercoaster that was the Trump administration, Melania somehow managed to keep up her enigmatic facade.
It’s a fact that has even been acknowledged by Trump allies.
Former senior counsellor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, claimed in a recent interview that “there remains a curiosity and a mystery about her”.
So who exactly is the real Melania Trump – and what are her next moves now her husband has finally been prised from the Oval Office?
Who is Melania?
Melania Knauss was born in 1970 in Slovenia, which was then under Yugoslavia’s communist regime.
She was discovered by photographer Stane Jerko in 1987 in the city of Ljubljana, and a modelling career in Paris and Milan soon followed, before she moved to New York in 1996.
The young model met her future husband at a party two years later, and the pair tied the knot in 2005 before welcoming son Barron – Donald Trump’s fifth child – in March 2006, the same year she became a US citizen.
In 2010, she launched her own accessories line, Melania Timepieces and Jewellery, as well as the Melania Marks Skin Care Collection, but by 2017 both companies were defunct.
Melania Trump became the US First Lady on January 20, 2017 after her husband’s 2016 election win, and she and Barron made the move from New York to Washington to join him in the White House in June 2017, after Barron completed the school year.
The 50-year-old’s unorthodox term as first lady sparked plenty of bizarre theories and wild speculation about what was really going on behind the scenes.
Overwhelmingly, the public tended to see her in one of two ways – either as a victim stuck in a loveless marriage and held hostage by a watertight prenuptial agreement, or a cold and ruthless villain.
The first rumour has been partly inspired by her own behaviour, as Melania hasrepeatedly been seen slapping away her husband’s hand at public events during his presidency.
Interest in the Trump marriage also reached fever pitch when former The Apprentice contestant and ex-White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman claimed the first lady was “counting every minute until he is out of office and she can divorce”.
But a scathing tell-all penned by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former friend and adviser of Melania Trump, disputed the common belief that the former first lady was a powerless victim, instead painting her as someone who is as steely and calculating as her husband.
“She is not just complicit, she is his enabler. And she’s his biggest cheerleader and unfortunately she’s done nothing but that,” Wolkoff said in a CNN interview after the January 6 siege on the US Capitol.
She doubled down on that unflattering depiction in an op-ed for The Daily Beast, writing: “Many still believe that Melania is powerless, but don’t be fooled; she is an abuser too, of the worst kind … Melania knows and supports Donald and his viewpoints.”
Adding to Melania’s mystique are the persistent claims she used a body double to stand in for her at events during the Trump administration, her lengthy and unexplained disappearance after undergoing kidney surgery in May 2018, and her almost total absence during her husband’s second and doomed election campaign.
Behind the scenes
First ladies traditionally use their position to generate positive PR for the president and his administration, to support him on the campaign trail and to champion their own worthy causes.
But Melania Trump has consistently appeared to be reluctant to take on much of a public role outside of her widely panned “Be Best” anti-bullying campaign.
Her apparent lack of interest in the role of first lady did not go unnoticed.
The Atlantic pointed out the abnormality in October last year, just before Donald Trump’s November 3 election defeat.
“You get to know the first lady in a hundred ways: wearing couture in Vogue and blue jeans in People; sitting on the couch of a morning show or next to the host of a late-night talk show, who treats her gently and laughs as she gamely makes a few scripted jokes,” the article reads.
“But here we are, possibly at the end of this administration, and Melania is as mysterious now as she was the day her husband bounded up the White House stairs to shake hands with the Obamas.”
Equally mysterious are her post-White House plans. Melania has revealed little of her next moves besides her reported hope of publishing a coffee table picture book on her personal style in the months ahead.
After four years under the spotlight, Melania Trump has managed to reveal next to nothing about herself, besides how fiercely she seems to value her privacy and freedom.
And now the Trumps have finally left the White House, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know much about the person behind the designer outfits and vacant smile.
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